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Regime veteran in search of new reformer allies

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 19, 2005 10:53 pm    Post subject: Regime veteran in search of new reformer allies Reply with quote

Regime veteran in search of new reformer allies


Sunday, June 19, 2005 - 2005 IranMania.com

LONDON, June 19 (IranMania) - Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the pragmatic cleric who has been at the centre of the Islamic regime for a quarter century, has never been a hero of Iran's reformers, AFP reported.

But he is all that stands between ultra-conservative Tehran mayor Mahmood Ahmadinejad becoming Iran's new president and possibly rolling back the new social freedoms liberals have enjoyed over the past several years.

The 70-year-old ayatollah now faces the mammoth challenge of mobilising Iran's disillusioned opposition to vote for him in Friday's run-off vote, to counter the millions of votes Ahmadinejad is set to garner from hardcore religious supporters.

In the election campaign, the man who was president from 1989 to 1997 has proved himself a master of political reinvention, going out of his way to dispel any image of a stuffy, wealthy cleric who is out of touch with Iran's youth.

He took off his turban in an election broadcast to reveal well-kept silver hair and was shown watching football. To the astonishment of many here, he also appeared on television affably discussing sex and fashion with young people.

Widely seen as Iran's de facto number-two behind supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in recent years he nevertheless managed to duck and dive through tensions between reformists and hardliners.

In his campaign, he called on the regime to radically rethink its relationship with a burgeoning youth population, saying that "new solutions" were necessary.

In an attack on hardline dogma, he even said that "nobody should think that we can act by employing the same literature, the same policies or the same attitudes that we had at the beginning of the revolution."

But is unclear whether this will prove enough for Rafsanjani -- who in the past has been an arch enemy for Iran's political left -- to win over the reformers.

"He cannot count on the votes of conservatives, and Rafsanjani has no chance in the second round unless he changes and is more assertive about democratic demands," said opposition journalist Omid Memarian.

While Nobel Prize Winner Shirin Ebadi has already said she will not vote in the second round in protest of the whole process, one leading reformist newspaper urged its readers to hold their noses and vote for Rafsanjani.

The son of a pistachio farmer, Rafsanjani went on to become an early follower of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and a leading figure in the 1979 Islamic revolution.

He studied theology in the Shiite clerical centre of Qom at the age of 14, participated in the anti-monarchy movement during the 1960s and was frequently arrested by the shah's secret police.

His revolutionary credentials -- which include a bullet wound to the stomach -- have provided him with more room for rhetorical maneuver, and unlike other candidates he is at ease tackling sensitive issues head-on.

He has also driven the debate on the issue of relations with the United States, still something of a taboo.

Amid tensions over the Islamic republic's nuclear ambitions, Rafsanjani has asserted Iran's desire to be a regional superpower and has represented himself as a strong negotiator, given his past dealings with Washington to exchange arms for US hostages in Lebanon during the so-called "Irangate" scandal.

He is also credited with having convinced Khomenei to accept a ceasefire after eight years of war with Iraq.

He may have been hostile to the rapid pace of social reform that outgoing President Mohammad Khatami had been pushing for, but he did promote the role of women. His daughter, Faizeh Hashemi, is a prominent champion of women's rights.

But all is not rosy in Rafsanjani's past.

His presidency was marred by a string of grisly murders and assassinations of dissidents and regime opponents at home and abroad.

On the economic front, he presided over a post-war boom, but his economy also saw damaging inflation and mounting foreign debt.

Rafsanjani remains dogged by gossip over his alleged wealth. He is rumoured to control assets ranging from hotels to automobile factories, grocery stores to pistachio plantations. He has denied being rich.
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